I’m guessing most of us “adults” believe we left peer pressure behind in high school. My experience says otherwise. I look at how I live and what I’ve spent money on, and it becomes obvious that most of it is the result of caving to peer pressure, of trying to “fit in”, or just doing the default because “it’s what everyone else does.”
Maybe you think you’re immune to peer pressure. Heck, maybe you are! If so, way to go! I’m absolutely certain that being completely free of peer pressure is a big component of becoming a truly exceptional person. But, if you’re like most people, you’re a prisoner to peer pressure. I mean, just stop and think for a minute about what’s truly important to you.
Is it truly important for you to know what happens to the crew on Lost or to be among the first to know how the Red Sox did tonight or to have the best and most prestigious car, TV, camera, landscaping, riding lawnmower, blender, panini-maker, smart phone (very important!), brand-name clothing, five-blade razor, bass boat, jet ski, carrot-fiber fly rod and AKC-certified puppy? This is doubtful. I mean, really, do you want this on your tombstone: “Bob pretty much accomplished nothing of lasting importance during his life, but he sure had a nice iphone and no one knew more baseball stats.”?
We spend time, money and energy on those things simply because everyone else does or because people will think we’re cool. It’s what’s expected of us. One of the worst things is to be labeled “different” or, heaven forbid, “cheap.”
Of course, by “different” I don’t mean the modern version in which everyone becomes a rebel or a revolutionary or dyes their hair black, wears black clothing and puts on black make-up so they can all be “different” together. I don’t mean the cool “different” like that. What I mean is doing something which will possibly result in even the freaks calling you a cheap weirdo hippie. We avoid this situation at all costs. The reason: peer pressure. We desperately want to fit in (even if it’s a fringe group), and we didn’t leave that mindset behind in high school.
If you think this doesn’t apply to you (and I really hope it doesn’t), then just ask yourself what you’d be willing to “sacrifice” to accomplish your really big goals. Let’s say that, like me, you want to retire as early as possible. To accomplish that, you could do several things: live in a boat/RV/commune, ride a bicycle to work, buy clothes from Goodwill, rarely eat out, don’t own a television/cell phone/fancy cake mixer, etc. Now, if you’re like most people, you have an immediate negative reaction to most of those options. But why? Would any of them really be that bad? I mean, if early retirement is really important, shouldn’t these minor sacrifices be worth it? Do you really value television or eating out more than being free from wage slavery? I bet if you look deeply, you’ll see that it’s because you’re concerned with what others (family, friends, strangers) will think. It’s not that you’d truly mind the sacrifices. It’s that you’re worried people will think you’re weird.
So, what do we do about it?
Well, I think the first step is to become aware of it. Self-awareness is a big component of this whole simplicity/living deliberately thing, and this is exactly why. As long as you go through life like a zombie, never considering why you do what you do, then you’ll continue making the same mistakes over and over. So, start thinking about why you do things. Why do you have a $100/month TV package? Why do you drive a $30,000 car when a $500 beater would serve just as well? Why do you need 4WD when the only time you go offroad is when you accidently slip off the side of the driveway? Why do you need a tractor-sized riding lawnmower for your 0.15 acre yard? Why, exactly, do you need a panini-maker? What the heck is a panini anyway, and how is it different from the grilled cheese sandwiches Mom used to make in a skillet?
Are any of these things really important to you, and are they possibly even barriers to your achieving goals that are really important?
Just start examining yourself. Try to figure out why it is that you want certain things. Do you really, truly need them? Are you getting it because your uber-cool friend Bob got one, and you’re tired of him parading it in front of your face and making you feel like a loser?
Once you begin to understand why you’re doing things, you’ll suddenly find yourself empowered to choose something else. If that new truck doesn’t align with your goal of financial independence, then you can choose not to have it. If watching 3 hours of TV per night doesn’t align with your goal of becoming a writer, it suddenly becomes easy to cancel the satellite TV subscription and start writing. It becomes easy to ignore the chiding of peers whose goals don’t align with yours and who may not even have any well-defined goals to begin with.
I don’t want to come off as preachy here. This is something I’ve struggled with and still do. In the last few years I began examining why I did some of the things I did, and much of it was due to peer pressure and, now we come to the dark heart of the matter, JEALOUSY. If some friends visited an exotic destination on vacation, I wanted to go. If a friend bought a nice house or sweet new phone or snazzy truck, I wanted one. Who wouldn’t?! It looked awesome! They were living the life! Not me with my pitiful old pickup truck, last year’s phone and camping trip to a local park.
What I found is that those things didn’t make me happier. I was just as happy with my old stuff as I was with the new stuff, sometimes moreso, especially when you consider I would have had more money if I’d kept the old stuff. Money which could have been donated to greater causes or saved and invested toward my eventual freedom from wage slavery.
What I’m trying to learn to do (and what you should try to do as well if you care at all about deliberately living a meaningful life) is pause and measure every request on my time, energy and money against those goals that are truly meaningful. Meeting someone else’s standard of “normal” is emphatically NOT important to me, so why should I be making so many decisions based on that?